Got a LinkedIn profile? Check. Got it in tiptop shape? Check. Now what?
It’s time to dive into what the website’s known for: networking. Sure, it can be intimidating, especially when you don’t have a ton of professional connections yet. But with confidence, creativity and some LinkedIn wisdom on your side, you can build a network, one that might even lead you to your dream job.
1. Think outside the box when making connections.
You know those people who have “500+ connections”? How can you reach that number? Maybe you’re new to LinkedIn or you don’t have much work experience yet. It’s all about getting creative, says Rick Sass, a career coach and LinkedIn expert at Lee Hecht Harrison in Bellevue, Washington.
Start connecting with classmates, alumni and professors, plus former bosses, supervisors and colleagues. Then branch out to less obvious potential connections, like your neighbors when you were growing up and your parents’ friends.
A good rule of thumb is to have 10 connections for every year of your age, Sass says, or 200 connections if you’re 20 and 240 if you’re 24. LinkedIn connections are helpful if they work at companies you’d be interested in joining. Or they might switch jobs eventually and land at an organization you love, or connect you with someone else who is in a role you’re excited about.
“You never know who knows who and you never know who somebody’s going to become,” Sass says.
2. Personalize your requests to connect on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn includes a pre-filled message when you send out a request to connect, usually “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” Don’t miss this opportunity to craft a personalized note within your request. It will give your connection a warm reminder of how you met and why it’s helpful for both of you to be in touch. Keep it short and sweet: “It’s not a cover letter,” Sass says.
If you spoke for the first time with a fellow alum at a college networking event, for instance, say, “Hi, Matt. It was great meeting you at Alumni Day this weekend and hearing about your exciting work at IBM. Looking forward to staying in touch. See you at the robotics conference in September!”
3. Give and get recommendations and endorsements.
Once you’ve connected with people, make your profile more robust with personalized recommendations from people you’ve worked or studied with. They serve as testimonials or first-person character references that give your profile an extra boost of legitimacy and specificity. Employers will be impressed to read how well you work with others and that someone went out of his or her way to talk you up on LinkedIn. Give others recommendations and ask if they can do the same for you.
Endorsements are less labor intensive, but like recommendations, they’ll help you come up higher in recruiters’ searches, Sass says. Add skills to your profile, like “event planning,” “legal research” or “grant writing,” in the section called “Skills & Endorsements.” Your first-degree connections will have the option to click on that skill and “endorse” you for it, meaning they’ve seen firsthand that you excel at that particular talent. Endorse your connections’ skills and they’ll probably be more likely to endorse you back.
4. Join and actively contribute to LinkedIn groups.
Industry and alumni groups are an invaluable way to develop professional connections and stay on top of trends in your field. Watch the groups for the first few weeks after you join them to see how they operate, Sass says, then start liking and commenting on posts and articles others link to. Start posting relevant resources yourself. Recruiters will like that you’re a curious and active participant in your industry, which will make a difference in your LinkedIn job search.
“They understand you’ve got skin in the game, you’re interested, you’re focused, you’re engaged,” Sass says.
Many LinkedIn members don’t realize that you can directly message members of groups you’re in even if you’re not otherwise connected. When you join groups relevant to jobs you’re targeting, you can then talk directly to members about an article they posted or an interesting project they’re working on.
5. Connect with alumni who work at your dream company.
Build your network by connecting with people who you have something in common with. For recent grads, the best LinkedIn members to network with are those who graduated from your school, since they’re more likely to meet in person and give you guidance.
Say you went to New York University and you’re interested in a job at Google. From your profile, click on the name of your university. On the next page, click “Students & Alumni” on the top menu. LinkedIn will show bar graphs with a breakdown of where alumni live, where they work and what their job titles are.
Click on “Google” under “Where they work,” and LinkedIn will show only the alumni who work at Google below the graph of results. Click on “Greater New York City Area” and you’ll see only NYU alumni who work in Google’s New York offices.
You’ll be able to see how many connections you have in common with each member. Ask those connections for an introduction, or request to connect with the Google employee directly—using a personalized message asking to meet for coffee to talk more about his or her role. Make sure to say where you graduated from and when, and keep it casual. At this stage, you’re not sharing your résumé with them or treating your meeting like a job interview. But you’re keeping the door open for a future opportunity and growing your confidence as a LinkedIn connoisseur at the same time.
This article originally appeared on NerdWallet. Brianna McGurran is a staff writer covering education and life after college for NerdWallet.